You’re catching me in the act of stealing. I’m stealing this idea from a fellow widow, blogger, and all around good gal (thank you, Supa Freshwidow) who recently posted an article about a parent covering up the details of the death of the other parent.(http://www.mamapop.com/gossip/2010/05/survivor-producers-death-covered-up-for-kids.html)
Did I just say that right?
Anyway, it started some interesting dialogue about what should and should not be disclosed to young children about the death of a parent.
For me, my kids were REALLY young when my husband died. Like…borderline babies. Actually, one of them was a baby. So for me to tell them every little detail of what happened really didn’t seem appropriate. I told them that their dad hurt his head (he had a stroke after being involved in an accident) and died.
At the time, that explanation seemed sufficient enough.
But even with that explanation, I had to be veeeery careful. Most of you recognize what a delicate balance this is. I didn’t want them to think that every time they bump their heads on the playground that they might die. I didn’t want to get in a fender-bender and have them panic and think they aren’t going to make it. And I didn’t want to make them afraid of life.
Now, by being a little general, I’m not lying to my kids. I’m not telling them that he decided to go live in the country like their pet hamster or anything. I’m using what I like to call “age appropriate honesty.” I tell them what I think their little brains can handle.
And then I leave it up to them to ask the next question.
For years, my explanations have been enough. For my oldest, she seemed satisfied that things happen. I’ve had that child in enough preventative therapy over the years that she’s probably able to counsel my own therapist. For my youngest, she seems to have a connection with her dad that constantly astounds me since she was only 18 months old when he died.
I run into problems with my son.
My son, my beautiful middle child, has the most amazing mind. I know this because it’s not mine. It’s all his dad. He is freaky smart (not me), a math whiz (really not me), and needs a good explanation as to how things happen and why (a little me). We’ll just be riding in the car and he’ll calmly ask, “So, was there a lot of blood on the road when Daddy had his accident?”
Yeah…where’s my drive-thru daiquiri stand when I need it?
I kind of know the way his mind works and that he’s not asking because he’s upset. He’s not asking because he’s scared. He’s asking because his little brain needs some details and he wants to put some pieces to a puzzle together that he lost the lid for and doesn’t quite know how the final outcome is supposed to look.
Now, these questions always catch me off-guard. And my daughters seem happy enough to not know the answer. But, for him, I answer them as calmly and truthfully as I think a 6 year old boy can handle. I don’t go into a lot of detail, but I recognize the fact that this is important to him. I don’t lie. I don’t skirt the issue. And some day…in his own time...that puzzle will come together.
I can recognize the fact that my daughters, for the time being, seem okay with the status-quo. I’m waiting and I think I'm as prepared as I can be for that dam to break, but so far we seem to be doing okay.
But my son…he needs to work through this.
We have all dealt with loss and how that’s affected our kids in different ways. Some kids were there for the death of a parent…whether it was sudden or slow. Some kids weren’t and will always be searching for the mental image of those final moments. And all of our kids will forever wonder how this could have happened…just as we ask ourselves that question every day.
For those of you with teenagers who struggle together with the questions of why and how…I can’t imagine what you go through. My heart especially goes out to those dads who lost their spouses when their daughters were entering the teen years. Those years are a mystery to everyone and to throw something like this in the mix…well…I wish you were getting paid time and a half.
For my friends who are dealing with their children who are adults but will always be their babies…again…I can’t imagine what you’re going through. To try and figure out how to go on and still be a safe harbor for your kids to come home to…that’s a whole other beast.
The bottom line is that there is NO good way (or good time) to lose a parent. Who that parent was and what could have been will always be a piece of the puzzle that’s missing. And it’s up to us to figure out, behind any question, what our kids are really asking. What their needs are at the time. What we can say to not frighten, but also not sugarcoat the realities of life and death while our kids slowly digest the answer.
And let them know that, whatever happens, we will always be their honest answer.
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© Catherine Tidd 2010